The Type 1 Beetle and Type 2 Transporter were well established by the late Forties/early Fifties but Volkswagen was under pressure to build a sophisticated alternative to the “people’s car”.
Germany was coming out of recession after the second world war and consumers were demanding fancier models like those across the pond such as the new Ford Thunderbird and Chevrolet Corvette. Coachbuilder Karmann offered to help and enlisted the assistance of Ghia design in Italy and by ‘53 they’d built a sporty looking concept. VW execs loved it and the result of this love triangle was named the Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia and it was green lit for production two years later. But, there was some confusion over who actually had penned the Type 14 as Ghia had been working with Chrylser on a series of ‘dream’ cars at the time of Karmann’s approach. It’s suggested that the car wasn’t completely new but a re-working of an existing yet unused design by Chrysler. Google the 1952 D’Elegance and see why the debate over its origins still rages over 60 years later...
There’s no refuting the fact that the little coupe was built on the Beetle’s platform but Karmann had to widen the floor pans, lower the steering column, weld five separate pieces to create the front end and shape Ghia’s body. It looked more Italian than German and in fact it was marketed as a car “For those who can’t stand the sight of a Volkswagen” but you knew it was from the same family from its rounded surfaces. The automotive world was in love; it was easy to drive and inexpensive to own and had the same 40bhp 1.2-litre flat-four as the Bug (at the back of course). This was adequate power for the time but it was more the racy styling that ensured over 10,000 sold in its first year. Sales doubled when a convertible was introduced in 1958 and they continued to climb as did power which would peak at 60 horses in ‘71. It remained in production for almost two decades with the last one rolling off the line in 1974 and replaced by the Scirocco.
Almost 450,000 were built and it is one of the most coveted air-cooled VW’s today and enjoys a huge cult following.